By Carlos Camacho
CARACAS -- Police and National Guard killed four suspects Tuesday during a wide raid in Western Caracas that involved tanks and helicopters, as Venezuela also underwent the rare climate phenomenon known as a “solar halo.”
“As has been the request of our people, we have deployed OLP New Phase in 4 areas of Caracas,” tweeted Interior Minister Gustavo Gonzalez as the operation began unfolding. Local media said eight suspected criminals were killed during the operation, but Gonzalez spoke only of four killed when resisting police action. Some 400 vehicles were used during the operation, ranging from motorcycles to tanks and choppers.
The purpose of the raid, Gonzalez said was to “eradicate organized crime” and “the paramilitary.” Venezuelan government officials frequently blame the country’s high crime rate on right-wing paramilitary groups supposedly originated in Colombia and affiliated with the local anti-Maduro opposition, a charge the opposition has denied and the government failed to prove conclusively.
The homicide rate in Venezuela is surging again in 2016, the Prosecutor General’s office warned in its first quarterly report of the year last week. Venezuela suffered 18,000 homicides in 2015 according to the Prosecutor General, but NGO’s put that figure closer to 28,000 murders for last year.
Also during the operation, 1,131 suspects for different crimes were apprehended, the Interior and Justice Ministry said in a tweet. Seventeen cars, 19 motorcyles, 15 fire arms, all supposedly stolen, as well as unspecified amounts of illegal drugs were also seized during the operation, minister Gonzalez said.HIGH CASUALTY RATE
State television said 3,200 security personnel were deployed in the operation, called “OLP” by the government, the Spanish language acronym of “Operations for the Liberation of the People.” OLP’s are a forceful, wide raid implemented on high crime areas of Venezuela that have been criticized for their high casualty rates, both for police and suspects.
Cops and guardsmen closed main roads leading into four sections of Western Caracas -- Cota 905, Coche, El Cementerio and El Valle -- Tuesday morning before the showdown. Afterwards, per OLP’s established procedure, they went house-to-house seeking criminals -- but this time, cops brought more than just body armor.TANKS IN THE PEACE ZONE
For the first time ever, tanks were deployed in one of Caracas’ few “zonas de paz”, or “peace zones” -- Cota 905.
Like the OLP itself, the “peace zones” are a divisive, highly controversial initiative: high-crime areas were police stopped patrolling three years ago, after talks with local gangs. Now the cops are back and in full force.
All in all, four agencies were involved in the OLP: National Guard (Armed Forces), CICPC (Venezuela’s version of the FBI), National Police, and the Sebin national intelligence service, also part of Venezuela’s military.
REAL LIFE “HALO”
While cops and suspects shot it out in Caracas, a “solar halo” was visible in almost all of Venezuela.
During this unusual event -- the first in recorded Venezuelan history -- the sun appeared surrounded by a rainbow-like, circular “halo”, something that occurs when clouds at a certain altitude are extremely cold and present particles of ice inside them.
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